The sun shone brightly into the busy front rooms of 22 Grosvenor Square. The house, which stood detached from its neighbors, was like a beehive humming with last minute instructions and pattering feet, exclamations by maids, one to another, quickly, softly, for an important guest was arriving. Careful directions had been given concerning all manner of details, from the flower arrangements that were to face east, to the variety of infusions to be served in lieu of tea. The curtains had been beaten, the floors glossed with wax, the windows rubbed until spotless.

Daphne Lockwood lightly dusted around an ancient Greek vase in a niche, her lithe figure not unlike its painted runner in peplos and sandals. She wore her soft purple day dress, covered in a pattern of small lake flowers, in honor of their guest. “When she arrives, I ought to simply ask her,” her voice echoed lightly across the tall drawing room.

Out of the question,” her sister Chloe replied.

It isn’t a matter of idle curiosity,” Daphne continued. “Her Majesty’s instructions placed such an unusual emphasis on keeping the princess’ visit secret, though we’re always very discreet. And it’s not everybody one could tell such a thing in any case, is it?” Daphne paused. “Chloe?”

Hm?” Chloe was peering under the sofa, checking for dust that might have strayed across the gleaming wood floor. She pressed her hand to the sofa to support herself and stood. Frowning, she dusted down her dress. “The princess is the youngest daughter, there are bound to be strictures.”

But could it be something more?” Daphne wondered. “Some unusual circumstance, too delicate to mention? Perhaps if we were to broach the subject first ourselves...”

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